Three Girls Drowned. Did Deputies Watch It Happen?

Families suggest cops could have done more
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 24, 2016 4:40 PM CDT

The families of three Florida teens who drowned in a stolen car are suggesting sheriff's deputies could have done more to save them, the Miami Herald reports. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has forcefully rebutted those allegations in this Facebook post. The office released hours of dashboard footage of the March 30 tragedy, which shows that officers took off clothes and equipment in an attempt to rescue the girls, but also shows one deputy watching from the bank of the pond and talking about hearing screams for help. "We are in the process of reviewing everything," says Will Anderson, a lawyer for the girls' families, per ABC News. Dominique Battle, 16, Ashaunti Butler, 15, and Laniya Miller, 15, allegedly stole a Honda Accord from a Walmart parking lot that night. Deputies followed and saw them plunge into a pond, but the sheriff's office says their rescue attempts were hampered by darkness and thick mud.

"They’re done. They’re done," a deputy says in one of the clips. Another says, "I thought I heard yelling." The other responds, "As it was going down. But now, they're done." Anderson also accused the sheriff's office of conducting a "smear campaign" for revealing the girls' past records; they had seven felony charges over the previous year for auto theft. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri expressed sympathy for the families, but says they shouldn't "disparage the deputies who were trying to rescue three kids." The deputies "got in the pond, and just because it's not on cam doesn't mean it didn't happen." (This clip shows deputies walking by the camera, one of them shirtless.) Laniya's mother, Natasha Winkler, admits her daughter "was not perfect" but says she doesn't want her remembered as a thief, the Tampa Bay Tribune reported earlier this month. (More drowning stories.)

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